"Bogdan Ghirda is paid £70 a month to do what most bosses would fire him for. From the moment he arrives at work he plays computer games on the internet."
(From the 2005 Observer article, "Virtual sweatshop")
Gold farmers didn't invent digital goods, though they've been around for quite a long time. People are not only buying MMO money - the market has expanded. What started as a black secondary market for harvested goods soon became a profitable channel for gaming companies that make their money - surprise surprise - based on the interface of your all-favorite social networks. Yes, while Facebook is struggling for monetization, companies like Zynga make hundreds of millions of dollars by running social games that are multi player, asynchronous, and let you buy any type of addition, from "special powers" for your vampires to "new clothing" for your soccer team.
You gotta love this culture. Honestly, it's amazing to see the thought, time and money invested in these games. There are numerous trends in this area, attracting more and more talented people who feel the buzz and want to take their share. And as they advance in creativity, these games move to main stream social network users but continue to evolve in the complexity they provide and the story they allow you to tell.
With them, obviously, come the fraudsters. In an industry so used to checking physical shipping destinations (via AVS) and managing proofs of shipment as a tool for dispute resolution between sellers and buyers, how do you deal with instantly delivered, non tangible goods where quality is sometimes purely in the eye of the beholder? In addition, fraudsters looking to steal digital goods are usually a mixture of sophisticated internet users and kids using their parents' money, sometimes referred to as "friendly fraud". So, if you're in the Risk business, mobile payments or into social networking in general, expect a pretty hot summer in everything digital, with fierce behind-the-scenes competition and major losses to fraud. I am looking forward to seeing which will be the winner in this field - is Paypal stirring something up with the new API, are small players like Boku.com going to lead or is Facebook going to make its debut in payments supporting the tidal wave of social gaming on its site? The coming months will tell...